The People We Knew

Made at an unknown holiday camp in England in the early 1950s/

Made at an unknown holiday camp in England in the early 1950s/

Today we said our formal goodbyes to Harold. He passed three months almost to the day after his life partner of 64 years Joan. Two very special people no longer with us. Life changes …

We came across this fantastic image whilst sorting old photographs for a memory board. Something about it caught my photographer’s eye immediately. It shows Joan and Harold together in the early 1950s. And that is the first thing that strikes; a young couple in the prime of their lives, sitting for a photographer, posed yet relaxed. 

The characters I came to know over 38 years are there too: Joan more formal, Harold less so, with the bond between them evidenced subtly in their body language – mirrored hands, his elbow and hip to her shoulder but not too obvious a touch; left and right feet angled almost identically; a relationship of the times. During his final days I asked Harold where it was taken. “Some b***** holiday camp!”, he said with familiar irreverance. An image of the times. The bag behind the chair, the towels out to dry, the door ajar. Maybe they were caught on returning from swimming. There’s an invitation to imagine. The casual storylines I infer from the image seem so different from the order in its design. Note the off-centre positioning with eyes looking inwards, the corners of the two towels and downward slope of the washing line taking attention towards the couple.

Their headlines too, upwards from Joan to Harold to the top of the door and down to the bag – the classic implied triangle . Photography is so often about lines and shapes. Note too Harold’s white shoes – a counterpoint to the towels, this time a triangle inverted – and Joan’s dark shoes. There is Harold’s light shirt against the dark door and his trousers. And there is a light handle on the door, just open to a darker, more private space. Photography is so often about contrasts.

I doubt that any of this was planned, other than to sit Joan and Harold down to pose. I imagine a holiday camp photographer wandering the cabins, looking to woo young couples and families with a souvenir photo. And it is a present and mindful photographer who can see and capture a moment in time that is universally meaningful. I would hope that the photographer knew immediately that he or she had something special because things rarely fall into place as perfectly as this.

It is immeasurably meaningful to us for who it is – my wife’s parents, our boys’ grandparents – but this great image has a Robert Doisneau quality and I am quite thrilled to have found it.

RIP together Joan and Harold xxx